Here at LIRS, we’ve spent the past 10 days analyzing the immigration reform legislation that the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” released on April 17. This bill, known as S.744 or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, would overhaul our current immigration system. It includes numerous improvements to our immigration laws that would benefit migrants, refugees, their families and communities, and our nation. LIRS applauds these improvements, but also decries changes made by the legislation that would divide some immigrant families.
S.744 is far from becoming law. Proposed changes by senators on the Judiciary Committee will be voted on during a series of hearings in the month of May. Next, the amended bill will move to the floor of the Senate where it will be subjected to additional debate and voting. Finally, S.744 must either be adopted by the House of Representatives or be reconciled with any competing immigration reforms put forward by that chamber.
LIRS has carefully considered how S.744 would impact our five principles for reform. Details of our analysis are available now on our website, and we are releasing the analyses on our blog over the course of this week. Today, we take an in-depth look at protections for refugees and other vulnerable migrants. See also our analyses for family-based immigration and detention.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform Through Senate Bill S. 744:
Positive Changes for Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Stateless Individuals
Congress is now considering comprehensive immigration reform, making this is a crucial moment to renew America’s commitment to vulnerable newcomers. Our proud history of protecting and welcoming victims of persecution and torture is at stake. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has long sought to ensure that those fleeing persecution can find protection in the United States, unite refugee families, and improve opportunities for vulnerable migrants to feel welcomed by and become part of our communities and our nation.
LIRS therefore applauds provisions in S. 744 (the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act), introduced April 17, 2013, that create more efficient and humane processes to protect and welcome refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless people. These include:
- Eliminating the one-year filing deadline. Currently, persecuted people are barred from receiving asylum if their application is filed more than a year after they arrive in the United States. S. 744 would eliminate this deadline and allow asylum seekers to reopen their cases if they were previously denied solely because of late application.
- Improving efficiency, justice, and transparency by allowing refugee applicants abroad to have legal representation during the application process. The bill also requires that applicants who are denied refugee status receive a written explanation for their rejection.
- Enhancing refugee family unity. The bill rectifies gaps in current law that can permanently separate refugee families. It allows children of a refugee or asylee’s spouse or child to accompany or join them in the United States. Additionally, surviving widows and orphans of principal applicants could continue the visa process after the applicant’s death.
- Allowing the president to designate certain groups of refugees to be resettled to the United States. This would bolster protection and efficiency. The president could designate certain groups as having a well-founded fear of persecution, instead of requiring each individual within that group to meet this standard. This would solidify existing laws that protect certain religious minorities, including those from the former Soviet Union and Iran.
- Authorizing trained, expert asylum officers to grant claims of asylum who can show credible reasons for fearing persecution. This would replace the current practice of referring asylum seekers to immigration courts for what can be lengthy and costly adversarial proceedings that often retraumatize those seeking protection.
- Extending and improving the Special Immigrant Visa program for Iraqis and Afghanis who assisted U.S. military efforts abroad. The bill improves processing and efficiency for visa applicants and allows unused visas to be allocated through the end of fiscal year 2018.
- Protecting stateless persons living in the United States. The bill defines the term “stateless person” for the first time in U.S. law and allows certain people who are stateless and living in the United States to apply for conditional residency and eventual citizenship.
- Improving access to citizenship. The bill would provide elderly refugees with greater access to naturalization, ensuring more full and meaningful integration into American civic life while respecting their vulnerabilities. The bill also strengthens federal efforts to help refugees integrate into American communities, including assistance to refugees aspiring to naturalize.
Throughout the legislative process, lawmakers will be listening for voices from their constituents. It’s critical that they hear from you and everyone who stands for welcome for migrants and refugees. This is a moment of opportunity to encourage Congress to provide a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and their families, ensure humane and just enforcement of our immigration laws, uphold family unity for migrants and refugees, improve our refugee and asylum processes, and protect U.S. citizen and migrant workers. Visit our Action Center and tell your representatives in Congress that you support significant protections for refugees, asylum seekers, stateless individuals, and other vulnerable migrants in immigration reform. You can also keep tabs on the latest immigration reform developments by reading our Monday updates by Hill experts.
Thank you for continuing to Stand for Welcome for migrants and refugees!